A Fresh Look at Old Favourites: Shakespeare’s Globe
13th August 2019
We work with some of the UK’s greatest venues – but we tend to only see them (professionally) when they’re in need of transformation.
In this series, we’re taking a look at some of London’s favourite heritage venues – to see whether their customer experience lives up to the high expectations of visiting tourists and Londoners alike.
No doubt Shakespeare’s Globe is on many-a-tourist’s bucket list when they come to town. A faithful reconstruction of the original, the venue has been open for public performances since 1997. If you’re not available for an evening show, Globe Theatre offers a 40-minute guided tour throughout the day, priced at £17pp plus a £2.50 booking fee.
Finding the starting point was our first hurdle. The two Globe buildings act like separate entities: the thatched Shakespearean theatre and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Entrance navigation to both destinations focuses on the Globe branding, and we had to be redirected several times to locate the entrance to the tour. The team we met along the way were friendly, informed and happy to help point us in the right direction.
Tour guests with tickets in their hands are invited to spend time in the exhibition hall before their group is called to begin. The exhibition space itself is impressive and anchored by a large theatrical tree – but the activities on offer are not immediately clear. A prop room showcase, a full-size printing press and a sound archive of Shakespearean actors (sponsored by The British Library) provide enough to engage with if you have a little time spare.
For anyone arriving more than 10 minutes early for their tour, there was less to hold attention. We saw lots of visitors milling around without direction in the hall space – adults crowded around the colouring-in tables for somewhere to sit and kids ignored the “kids area” boasting some floor cushions and a noisy air conditioner. The lighting in this space was challenging, and it had a vague council building atmosphere which doesn’t fairly reflect the excitement or drama of the Globe.
We were told by the ticket booth that sword demonstrations in this space finish at 3.30pm. This information could have been communicated online, or even withheld from us completely, given our tour was listed to begin at 4.30.
Our tour began with a comical overview of the history behind the Globe and the surrounding area of London. Our guide steered us into the theatre and we caught a snippet of the technical rehearsal of As You Like it. We soon realised that your guided tour experience is completely dependent on what’s happening on stage at the time of your visit. Either you’d see a little teaser of a show to convince you to get tickets, or you might see very little and have to use your imagination.
From a factual point of view, the guided tour was engaging and entertaining. It seems hard to believe that the theatre had been a 3000-capacity venue with 1000 poor folk labelled the Penny Stinkards standing in the pit. We learned that Shakespeare’s Globe is the only building in London that’s allowed a thatched roof since the Fire of London – and that the Globe is the most successful theatre in London – selling 86% of seats for every performance.
The tour was short and sweet. When our host wasn’t sharing his extensive knowledge on the building and 16th Century culture, he let us sit in the atmospheric seats of the round theatre and watch what was happening on-stage (not a lot, unfortunately).
The tour itself ended up being 15% talk, 85% observation. We can’t help but feel like admission would have been a waste of money had we not seen anything in active rehearsal. Our host wasn’t informed about the play or the production side of the theatre, so couldn’t share any behind-the-scenes snippets with us. Photographs of the stage are also forbidden during live rehearsals so tourists hoping for a souvenir selfie may have been disappointed.
We didn’t see much of the building – just the view from the stalls – and we were unclear whether this was a restriction of the rehearsals or the standard route. When our visit drew to a close, our guide even apologised for the lack of action that day – which confirmed the feeling of missing out.
The tour conveniently ended next to the shop. The retail offer was organised by play which was easy enough, but it felt like they were just ticking boxes with the presented stock. Some price signage was confusing; communications in general looked like an afterthought; and it felt like there was just too much stuff! Prices were reasonable, however, and there was a mix of high and low-brow items to cater for Shakespeare fans and schoolkids alike.
The shop led into the atrium which is shared with the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a café and Swan – a bar and restaurant that overlooks the Thames.
Any offers to combine a visit to Swan and the Globe were lost on us if they were available – though it would be a sensible way to extend a day at the theatre between a tour and a show, perhaps.
Shakespeare’s Globe in itself is totally impressive and has been preserved to justice. However, we felt like the tour had either been miscommunicated or underdelivered for us to leave feeling deflated, despite the knowledgeable hosts and behind-the-scenes access. As an advert for the performances, however, it can’t be faulted.
Customer Experience Scoreboard
- Brand Presence 4/10 (Between Globe Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, it’s not always clear where one brand finishes and another begins)
- Intuitive Journey 8/10 (We are hosted throughout – however the entrance journey and the lack of viewpoints inside the theatre loses the tour a couple of points here)
- Engaging Perspectives 7/10 (Our host shared some interesting cultural history)
- Digital Integration 2/10 (Very few opportunities to engage outside of the exhibition hall)
- Instagram Moments 1/10 (The building exterior is the only snap we were allowed to take)
- Shop 5/10 (Uninspiring environment and communications, well-balanced product mix)
- Go-back-ability 9/10 (The tour acts as an advert for the performances)
- Overall 5/10 (No doubt as a theatre venue, the Globe Theatre would score much higher, but the tour experience feels under-baked.)
If you enjoyed the read, click to read about our trip to Imperial War Museum.
by Rhian and Nicole